Carlisle pleased with direct filing
Nearly 500 police officers, 108 police personnel and 358 civilians didn't have to testify in court this past year under the newest method used by prosecutors to bring felony criminal charges.
Information charging -- where a judge determines probable cause by reviewing statements and affidavits by the victim, witnesses and police instead of hearing actual testimony is "immensely successful," city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said yesterday. "It hasn't exceeded expectations. It's lived up to them."
Today makes a year since his office began using information charging, also known as direct filing, as an alternative to grand juries and preliminary hearings.
"This is an immense shift on the burden of HPD (Honolulu Police Department), civilians and victims of crime or witnesses of crime who are required to testify and make a court appearance," Carlisle said.
Critics such as the Office of Public Defender, which fought to keep the proposed constitutional amendment allowing information charging off the ballot in the last two elections, say it still doesn't address concerns about the defendants' due process and right to confront their accusers.
Deputy Public Defender Susan Arnett, supervisor of felony trials, said the number of cases charged by prosecutors via information charging is increasing but they haven't seen enough cases yet to measure its effectiveness. "It's been at this point used somewhat sparingly," she said.
Since last March, prosecutors used information charging in 10 percent, or 228 of the more than 2,200 felony cases charged last year. It was used mostly for Class C felonies such as auto thefts, car break-ins and less serious drug cases. Class C felonies are punishable by a maximum prison term of five years.
Of the 228 cases, 96 were resolved by pleading and the rest are awaiting trial, Carlisle said. Four were rejected by the courts early on for technicalities, two went to a grand jury and another two cases were returned to the District Court for approval.
In only one of the cases did the defense bring a motion to dismiss, but the request was denied, Carlisle said.
All except one of the goals they hoped to achieve through information charging have been easily met, Carlisle said.
Not only are victims and witnesses being spared the trauma of having to testify repeatedly, but police officers are out in the community rather than waiting in court to testify, he said.
Charging cases via information also gets the case into the court system quicker, rather than having to wait for a grand jury to be impaneled or witnesses to be subpoenaed to testify at a preliminary hearing, he said.
While officers aren't having to come to court, it doesn't necessarily translate to them being back on the street, state Public Defender John Tonaki said. "I don't know how he can make a claim there's more cops back on the street patrolling as a result (of information charging)," Tonaki said.
Opposition to information charging stemmed mainly from concerns that anyone can be charged simply because of what's contained in documents alleging that a crime occurred.
"The judge or grand jury should have a chance to look at the demeanor of that person and evaluate whether that person is credible and be able to question that witness," which is possible at either a grand jury or preliminary hearing, Tonaki said.
Tonaki said now that information charging is allowed under the law, his office is looking at each case individually to see if there are grounds to challenge the information and whether the judge did an adequate review of the materials supporting the charge.
"We're there to work within the system and whatever the system is, we're gonna make sure the person gets due process."